More than two-thirds of US chamber of commerce members surveyed have expressed concern about Hong Kong’s recently imposed national security legislation, with most citing its ambiguity in scope and enforcement.

The American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) polled 183 – or 15 per cent – of its more than 1,600 members between last Monday and last Thursday to gauge their thoughts on the controversial law, which critics have said aims to stomp out political dissent.

Hong Kong
Hong Kong. File photo: GovHK.

Drafted without local legislative oversight, the sweeping law criminalises secession, sedition, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces in the city following months of sometimes violent pro-democracy protests.

AmCham said almost 40 per cent of respondents said they were “extremely concerned” about the legislation, whilst 36.98 per cent were “somewhat concerned,” 10.93 per cent were “not too concerned” and 11.48 per cent were “not concerned at all.”

AmCham graph
In response to the question ‘How will your business be impacted by the national security law?’ 48 per cent of respondents thought their business would be negatively impacted, while 51 per cent in aggregate thought it would either not be impacted or would be positively impacted. Photo: AmCham.

Members acknowledged a potential decline in civil unrest following the enactment of the law. However, they identified questions over the city’s judicial independence, its status as an international business centre, the erosion of autonomy, data security fears, government retaliatory measures and a talent drain or staffing issues as causes for concern.

“Hong Kong will [no] longer be a platform for investment flows and sanctuary to house contractual agreements because the rule of law no longer exists,” one member was quoted as saying.

AmCham graph
In response to the question ‘Will the national security law affect your ability to hire talent?’ respondents reportedly distinguished between hiring expats and non-locals, as well as predicting that Hong Kong talent would leave. Those who responded positively expressed confidence in the city’s talent pool. Photo: AmCham.

“I am more concerned about the protracted street violence since [last June] that has made Hong Kong unsafe for its own citizens and tourists from the mainland,” another comment read.

Exit strategies

Asked about exit strategies, interviewees were divided equally with 48.09 per cent saying they had plans to leave in the medium-to-long run, with the exact same proportion saying they didn’t.

AmCham graph
In response to the question ‘What do you think will be the overall impact of the national security law on business prospects in Hong Kong?’ 63 per cent of respondents expressed negative views including the loss of talent and the worsened image of Hong Kong, while others highlighted greater stability and integration with the mainland Chinese economy. Photo: AmCham.

More than half of respondents said the law made them feel “less safe” living in Hong Kong, 22.40 per cent said they did not know or could not tell, whilst 26.23 per cent said they felt safer.

protest march five demands 1 July 2020 causeway bay
“Persist with the five demands. Resist against the evil national security law,” it reads. Photo: May James/HKFP.

“A few positive members in this survey regarded the [national security law] as a short-term shock and beneficial for long-term stability, but most were worried that the values and institutions which have contributed to Hong Kong’s past successes as a global financial centre will diminish as a result of the [national security law],” the international chamber wrote.

AmCham has previously expressed concern over the potential of the security law to impact business confidence in the semi-autonomous financial hub. It said in a statement on July 2 that it hoped the government would further clarify how the law would be interpreted, implemented, and explain its implications for US businesses operating and investing in Hong Kong.

‘Squeeze Hong Kong’s financial system’

Also on Monday, US Senator Marco Rubio said in a press release that “America must now move quickly to protect its economic and national security interests and the people of Hong Kong as the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] solidifies control over the formerly autonomous city.”

Marco Rubio
Marco Rubio. Photo: Gage Skidmore, via Flickr.

He called on the US State Department to recommend against travel to the city: “The most challenging question is how hard to squeeze Hong Kong’s financial system, which until now served as an airlock between China and the world.”

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.